Fire Fighting July 1921

As we compare the news of the first week in July 1921 with present day, it seems at least one fire was burning in the state back one hundred years ago, a far cry from our situation in Arizona July 2021. The men fighting the fires in the early 1900s were not professional firefighters as we have today but ordinary men – prospectors, timber men, sheep owners and any others, who were willing to fight the fire.  These men brought their own tools, camp outfits and chuck wagons and remained fighting the fire until there were no hot embers left. Sheep men and cattle men had good reason to go fight these fires as the land being burned was where their livestock would graze or were grazing. So, we will look at that fire but look at other pertinent news about fires and what was being proposed for school children.

Big Fire

A headlines in the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff,  read “Big fire south end of forest” in the Coconino National Forest. It burned 5,000 acres!  The newspaper went on to describe the fire,

“It is a rough country, filled with box canyons, about ninety miles from Flagstaff, and 25 miles from Payson. The men had to be walked in the last ten miles to the fire, over new trails recently built by the forest service. Dave Haught’s services were requisitioned as guide, as he has busted that country for years and knows all of it. Bill Conley, Winfield Beard, A. Peck, Elmer Selck, Earl Sick and others were requisitioned with their cars to carry the fire fighters down from here.”

The newspaper further stated that the fire had started in two places at once and had been fueled by winds blowing below the Mongollon Rim the previous days. At the time of the newspaper going to press, a cause of the fire was unknown. To the detriment of the stockmen in the area already suffering from the drought which kept their sheep and cattle from good winter grazing, the area of the fire also was where J. D. Newman, John Verkamp, D. W. Hudson and the Clear Creek Cattle Co. grazed their stock, further hindering these men’s economic recovery of poor lamb crop and wool as a direct result of poor winter feed,

Earlier editions of the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, that year also mentioned fires. In the March 11 edition, it had been reported that the forest fires had started early for the southwest. In the first ten days of March, six fires had been reported in Arizona and New Mexico. Fortunately, these fires were not extensive and did little damage. Two of the fires in the White Mountains had exceed 25 acres as they were fanned by high winds which always made controlling fires difficult. The forest service was anticipating a severe fire season due to the lack of precipitation over the winter months. Fast forward four months to July 1921, and a fire had consumed 5,000 acres. 

In that same March 11th edition of the Coconino Sun an intriguing article appeared: “To Teach Boys and Girls Fire Prevention Methods.” The Fire Marshals’ Association of North America wanted to secure legislation making the teaching of fire prevention methods to school children compulsory. The Forest Service and the United States Department of Agriculture strongly agreed and they hoped that such knowledge would make the task of protecting the forests easier.  “The whole question of adequate timber supply for the future needs of the American people, the chief forester points out, hinges on the protection of our forests. ‘Millions of acres of tree growth,’ he declares in urging the need for a law of this kind, ‘are destroyed each year by fires, and as a result of these repeated burnings we have in the United States today 245,000,000 acres of cut-over lands that are only partially restocking and more than 80,000,000 acres that are wholly non-productive. A great majority of the forest fires are man-caused, and therefore preventable. There are things which every child should know, for it is on them that the heaviest part of the future burden of curtailed timber resources will fall’.”  The paper reported that one eastern state, New Jersey, was the only state to have passed the compulsory teaching of fire prevention to school children. It was expected for other states to follow suit. Do you wonder if Arizona was one of the states that passed such legislation?  My next research project! But I digress.

Continuing further in the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, the April 15th edition continued to bring fire awareness to the public. Francis A. Chisholm, the County Agricultural Agent wrote, “In the past ten years 4800 fires which burned over 297,176 acres were reported on the National Forests of Arizona and New Mexico, according to District Forester Franck C. W. Pooler, of Albuquerque. Of this number, 45 per cent were man-caused and the remainder resulted from lightning. It cost the Forest Service and cooperators nearly $100,000 to extinguish these fires while the actual loss in timber and forage runs well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The district forester reported that these lightning caused fires were less damaging in area than those caused by human carelessness.  Maybe teaching school children and adults about fire prevention would be a great idea!

Firefighting Today

A lot has changed in firefighting in the last one hundred years. Just like today, a fire can be pushed in an instant by gusting winds into an area that is hard to manage by firefighters on the ground. Those canyons and chasms can only be safely reached by the air support of water tankers today.  One hundred years ago, the ordinary men, many of whom were livestock owners, would be the ones traveling into that canyon with primitive firefighting equipment. How they managed to keep the fires under control with unsophisticated equipment just goes to show the hard work and determination of the men fighting these fires as this was the land that provided their grazing for their animals. They wanted to protect it for it was their livelihood. They did not or would not intentionally destroy the land that provided for them and their families. Why would they? 

With the high spring winds that come each year and seemingly has not stopped this year and the excessively dry conditions which create a double hazard to fighting fires, why does the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and other governmental agencies put such tight restrictions on the number of animals on the land, how long the animals can graze that land, and when they have to move?  Is it better for a balance between grazing and forest management then to see the forest burned up? What about the wildlife that also are killed in such forest fires and the loss of grazing lands in their future? See two pictures below. I am sure that there are many more on the internet that could be added here. Wildlife and people do not win in such an environmental catastrophe. Environmentalists have had too much say in the management of our forest lands. Livestock raisers do not want to destroy the land that allows them a livelihood.  They build water tanks and provide salt links for their animals but the wildlife also take advantage of these too. They were environmentalists before the environmentalist even knew what that word meant. It is ludicrous to even think that farmers and ranchers are not good stewards of the land! 

May be an image of animal and nature
Photos by Marina Amaya Diaz

Weather, Grazing Fees, and Financial Pool to Help Stockmen

Little was mentioned about individual sheep men during the middle of June 1921, but there was some important business being conducted to help the livestock owners, both sheep raisers and cattle men, to be able to survive the continued downturn in the market and drought conditions. In the coming weeks, more will be said about this as the cattlemen and sheep raisers join together in their annual summer meeting to discuss what was common problems for both and make resolutions to fight some of the injustices that both organizations perceived and how best to handle as a joint force.

Weather Conditions Still Causing Havoc in the Livestock Business mid-June 1921

There were few mentions of the sheep industry during the second and third week of June 1921. No newspapers in southern Arizona mentioned sheep, but the cattlemen were thinking of borrowing money to assist them in moving their livestock to greener pastures in California, Kansas and Texas.  Shipments of cattle to Mexico had stopped when it was realized that the United States government would tax cattle brought back into the United States. It stands to reason that if there were flocks of sheep in the southern area, they also would need to be relocated due to the prevailing drought but I have no information to confirm this hypothesis.

Grazing Fees reduced

Good news was received for both cattle and sheep raisers as grazing rates on the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache reservations were being reduced for the summer.  Sheep which usually graze there are assessed at 40 cents for the summer would now be assessed 23 cents and yearlings at 29 cents.  Cattle was also reduced to $1.40 per head from $2.40.  Stockmen were cheering as it was evidence that the government was lifting a part of the financial load from the already over-burdened industry.  Senator Cameron, Arizona Senator, was credited with the reduction in grazing fees for both industries. It was estimated that there would be a savings of $100,000 to cattlemen and $10,000 for sheep raisers. The commissioner of Indian Affairs, Ex-Senator Burke, North Dakota, waived advanced payment of these fees until the close of the year.  It was believed that this move would keep many livestock businesses from failing in Arizona.

Financial Pool to Help Stockmen

Another piece of good news received by the stockmen in Arizona and the west was that two groups would each raise funds to help the livestock industry across the country.  J. P. Morgan and other eastern financiers from New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other locations had agreed to raise $25,000,000 as half of a pool for making loans to the livestock industry. The other $25,000,000 will be raised by western bankers. A committee from each group meet in Chicago to determine the conditions for the loans. The funds would be advanced to banks in the stock raising sections or cattle loan companies. Sheep raisers and cattle growers were eligible to apply for funds. The newspaper, Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, reported that “Interest charges would be at current rates with maturities six months on the paper. While about two years are required for the turn-over on the livestock, it was said loans would be subject to renewal at maturity which would make the paper eligible for rediscount by federal reserve banks.”

In another article, it was stated that western congressmen and officials of the federal reserve had asked congress for immediate loans up to $100,000,000 to help the livestock industry in the west. The money would come from the profit made by the federal reserve the previous year. President Harding was said to be in favor of such a plan. With the approval by the President and major banks, it was believed that congress would sanction the plan. The plan was to allow stockmen to have money for at least three years, perhaps five, for the loans. Interest would be required on the loans.

The Coconino Sun, Flagstaff stated, “It would be a godsend to both cattle and sheep men, many of whom owe their local banks for money borrowed for last year’s operations. Very few cattle growers but what need borrowed capital to carry them through this and probably the next three years, the time it takes to produce a beef animals for the market. The sheepmen, also, need money, to build up depleted herds and tide them over until production begins to show a profit again.” (This is a correct quote from the newspaper! It is an awkward worded sentence but I did not want to change it. I think it is clear what the newspaper was trying to state.)

Other news for the middle of June 1921 was that the Babbitt Bros. Sheep Co. arrived with four bands of sheep.  Lou Charlebois had also arrived the first of the week from Wickenburg and would remain in the vicinity until cold weather made it necessary to take his sheep south again.

Since we started this article with weather, we shall end it with weather.  It was reported that Spring Valley was one of the fortunate ones to have good rains for three days in a row. Heavy rains were still needed to fill the stock tanks with water, however. Too many livestock were using the same water tanks and rains were needed to fill these same tanks. Some livestock men had already begun hauling water to fill tanks where the livestock had been located when brought north. The newspaper reported though, “The rains this week were pretty general in northern Arizona. The long drizzly rain Monday night and all-day Tuesday assured us of a good grain crop. Old-timers say to get a rain like it in the middle of June is almost unprecedented, and some of them insist that it is a forerunner of a very dry July.”  What is interesting about this statement is many of the sheep raisers I had interviewed for Where Have All The Sheep Gone? Sheep Herders and Ranchers in Arizona – A Disappearing Industry had said the same thing about too early rains brings a dry summer. With the dry conditions now in the state, lets pray for a good monsoon season whenever it might start and let it not end until the last day of September.  Then, we need to have a good snowfall this winter in our mountains with a snow melt that will add to the livestock water tanks, reservoirs, and rivers. 

A mixer of sheep on the Rovey Dairy Farm, Glendale, Arizona

The Wool Raisers of 1898

I have spent the last several months browsing the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, for 1898, for as mention of the sheep men and their activities. The following is a summary of my findings for the year.

One sheep raiser that appeared to do well in selling his wool clip was Thomas Sayer. In Boston he was able to sell his 1896 wool clip for 12 cents per pound. That would equate to be $3.76 today. He had held his 1896 wool clip as the price that year was 3 cents per pound, or $0.93 today. Mr. Sayer still had his 1897 wool clip and his 1898 wool clip to sell. It was hoped that better days were ahead for the sheep raisers with the increase in wool prices.

Another sheep raiser was James A. May.  May had recently married at his father’s home in South Carolina and he and his new bride had just arrived in Flagstaff, January. A great deal of information is learned in this little article about Mr. May. He was called “a sheep king of Arizona.” The article stated that May had amassed a fortune and was thinking of retiring from working on the range and putting his money into the mines of Arizona. He had previously lived in Denver and was connected “with one of the local railway offices, but was swept to Leadville by the carbonate excitement, finally winding up a contractor of the Santa Fe and South Pacific, after which he drifted into sheep raising. (The Coconino Sun, January 29, 1898).

Two sheep raisers, Jerry Woodbridge and Harry Fulton, had reported after arriving in town the week of February 5th, that snow was plentiful in their areas. Both were expecting plenty of water and grass for the upcoming grazing season. This weather information gives us a picture into range conditions and what was foreseen for the future months ahead.

While the snow would result in tanks full of melting snow water and help the grass to grow, conditions were not favorable where the men were shearing their sheep. Many had commented in early March that if the winter rains did not come, they would be forced to move their flocks northward earlier than normal. This would also mean that shearing would not be taking place in the Salt River Valley and the wool clip would be shipped from other locations than Phoenix. A contradiction was made in mid-April about the weather which has not been resolved. By mid-April the sheepmen reported the weather was now favorable for lambing and the ranges were in excellent conditions. More on this in my next blog.

Sheep raisers were involved in many political offices of their respected counties. Some were recorded as being on juries such as Mr. John Noble.  The county treasurer, D. M. Francis, was spending time in the Salt River Valley the first part of February to look after his bands of sheep that will be sheared in the next few weeks. C. H. Schulz was able to return to his sheep camp with the adjournment of the board of supervisors.

In the Coconino Sun and other earlier newspapers, little tidbits of information about people can be found by searching the headline “Personal.” This is a great place to find information about the sheep men and to confirm that someone was in the sheep raising business.  Seven such mentions were for C. E. Howard, J. W. Cart, H.C. Locket, H. D. Yeager, D. M. Francis, Frank Hart, and Manchester Maxwell.  Howard was the manager of the Howard Sheep Company based in Williams. Cart spent his winters in Phoenix but his headquarters was in the Winslow area. Lockett had been in Phoenix and now was heading northward as were his sheep on the move to the north. Yeager came north from Phoenix to look after his sheep interest. Mr. Francis had purchased fifty head of Lincolnshire bucks from a dealer in Salt Lake, Utah. With the price of the sheep and the cost of transportation, he paid $25 per head. Today, that would be $784.30 per sheep! We learned that Frank Hart, a prominent wool grower from Navajo County visited Flagstaff. Then there was Manchester Maxwell.  The newspaper reported that he had a “bunch of sheep northeast of Flagstaff”, was an old Tennessean and fought in the Civil War with General Forrest.  It is interesting to get a little more information about some of these sheep raisers than just they were in town!

A sadder note was the death announcement for Lucien Greathouse Smith who had died at his mother’s residence in Flagstaff. Lucien was from Greenville, Ill., and his body had been shipped there for interment. Lucien was only 30 years old at the time of his death. He had been engaged in the sheep business in Coconino County for several years and had his headquarters at Seligman.

Another sad note found was about the fifty-nine head of sheep that were lost due to being struck by lightning.  The sheep had gathered under a tree during a thunderstorm when lightning struck the tree.

Probably the saddest note for the year was the death of D. J. Porter. Porter had been reported to have made a fortune in the sheep business in Apache County and selling it for $10,000. He then moved to Gallup, NM, where he bought a saloon and with wine and women, he was soon broke. He returned to the sheep business in 1897. But something went terribly wrong for him and he committed suicide by taking strychnine.  Today, that $10,000 would be worth $313,590.36, a nice retirement amount if invested and used wisely. Obviously, the women and wine were too much for Porter and there may have been mismanagement of his business. That is only speculation on my part.

As reported earlier, in January 1898, Mr. May was in the sheep business but was thinking of getting out of it and concentrating on mining. Obviously, he was still in the business as late as September when he reported thievery of 600 head of his sheep, or 10 percent of his flock.

Other less interesting comments had to deal with the sheep raisers being in town from their headquarters, the number of sheep in the county and/or selling or shipping their sheep to market. The end of August, Coconino County Assessor’s office reported that there was an increase in the number of sheep in the county for the year. In 1898, 183,750 roamed the county and were valued at $259,088.50.  The increase between 1897 and 1898 was only 33,203 head of sheep, or about 15 percent.  Mr. J. M. Kilgour sold 999 head of sheep for $4.70, or $147.45 today. The sheep averaged a little over 107 pounds and had been straight grass feed. It was said that the price received was the highest ever paid for straight grass feed sheep from Arizona.

As will be reported in my next blog, Arizona’s weather was an important factor as California sheep men were bringing their sheep by the train load to graze on the grasses of northern Arizona with the drought conditions in California making it impossible for them to keep their flocks alive.